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The Western left and African politics

Some few days back I came across a 1983 article where Audre Lorde wrote that: “among those of us who share the goals of liberation and a workable future for our children, there can be no hierarchies of oppression,” and that the act of placing oppressions on a scale of hierarchal importance is an oppressive act in itself.

He said most on the left side of politics, particularly those in Western countries who espouse anti-imperialist, antiwar, anti-colonial politics, would agree with this in theory, but many seem to fall short of this analysis of anti-hierarchal political sentiment when it comes to the continent of Africa.

On the left in the West, they tend to critique global situations of state violence which are exacerbated and perpetuated by Western influences, and rightfully so. The left has aptly rallied against US intervention in places like Syria. Western leftists have spent decades advocating for the rights and humanity of the Palestinian people against Israel’s illegal settlement of their land, and the violence it perpetuates against Palestinians. We also see the Western left prominently supporting the movements, self-determination struggles, anti-interventionisms and basic humanity of several communities in various parts of the world, and these communities certainly deserve much more support than they are currently receiving. However, my question is, when will there be room to support African struggles equally on this roster?

 Take this for example; the Western left is nearly silent on the situation in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), where violence, instability and civil war have ravaged the country for decades now. In the DRC, the UN has massively failed   in its various “peacekeeping” endeavours, having worsened the violence in many instances. The interpersonal violence and downright instability within the country can also be partially (if not mostly) blamed on American and European development institutions and multinational corporations that use what is now called “agro-colonialism” to  dominate the region through corrupt land-grabbing and human rights violations. Arguably one of the world’s most mineral rich countries with billion-dollar mining contracts that benefit mostly US, Swedish and Canadian-based companies, and include the use of hiring private militias and child slave labour  for mining, the Congolese people have had their land and humanity trampled by Western forces for decades through capitalist exploitation and violence, yet few Hands off Congo campaigns have permeated the Western left’s scope of interest as similar countries, such as  Venezuela have.

Similarly, we can see this hierarchical placement of global oppressions played out in the lack of coverage, sentiment and knowledge of the war in South Sudan. Nick Turse, states that the creation of South Sudan in 2011 was a project that the US helped solidify under a bipartisan committee, following two long civil wars that stretched from

1955 to 2005 and cost over six million lives, bolstered by the US’ funneling of military equipment to “rebel groups” from 1996 onward. This military equipment exacerbated already-present conflicts, heightened by millions of dollars of weaponry funneled through Ethiopia, Eritrea and Uganda. Along with this, news of Hillary Clinton’s State Department issuing waivers to allow the South Sudanese to use child soldiers despite specific law banning nations from providing military assistance to countries that use child soldiers, should have caused an international outcry led by the Western left, but sadly, it didn’t.

Today, South Sudan is on the brink of yet another civil war while US presence in the country increases, assumedly bidding for access to Sudan and South Sudan’s million-dollar oil reserves. South Sudan is one of the most armed populations in the world, with arms deals from Israel, Canada, Britain, China and others fueling a bulk of the violence. As outside forces arm both sides of the South Sudan conflict and continue to profit from the imminent violence, similar to occurrences in Iraq and Syria that have rightfully caused outrage from the left, the future of South Sudan seems depressingly abysmal. Again: Where is the outcry from the Western left? Where are the campaigns and marches?  While many can name the works of Marx, Gramsci, Lenin, Trotsky and other big-name left thinkers, few on the broader Western left can name more than a handful of African revolutionaries. Similarly, few take the time to self-educate on the revolutionary uprisings and states which flared in places like Benin, the DRC, Ghana, Zanzibar, Algeria or Senegal  and rarely are they familiar with the decolonisation work of people like Walter Rodney, Frantz Fannon, Sankara, Lumumba, Nyerere, Biko, Nkurumah and others.

The vast histories of modern movements, struggles, revolutionaries and politics on the African continent are nearly erased by the Western left, that is, African countries and their politics are often used and weaponised when making points about imperialism, or China, but never in conversation about the country itself.

In short leftist academics and organisers have failed our African siblings. As much as the left wants to believe the anti-imperialist, globalist politic is the transgressive move, they must begin to understand that fully transgressive and powerful global politics cannot simply follow trends regarding which countries and peoples are most popular to care about. We know this formula will always exclude the African struggle.

Global Politics




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